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I sailed a Catalina 22 through breakers like that about 30 years ago. It's undoubtedly hard to understand if you've never been through it, but if you're relatively inexperienced, and don't know what to look for, you can sail into a breaker like that without seeing it. Once you get into something like that, I don't think skill has much to do with it. The force of the wave is so great that you no longer have much control over the boat. You hang on and try to keep her stern square to the wave, but mostly, you're just along for the ride. If the boat turns sideways to the wave, the wave will roll the boat over, through 360 degrees, dismasting it and possibly sinking it. I'll say one thing. If you get through it without a disaster, it's a thrill you'll never forget! :D
 

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Looks like he turned to starboard and took it dead astern, just as the wave was hitting him. This probably helped save him. Surely if he kept his heading and took the wave on the port side, he'd be done for.
 

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Well, this is the "learning to sail" column, so I guess I'd say to learners,

DON'T go out in these conditions, ask the locals about what the harbor entrance looks like before you leave the dock. You might be able to crash through the heaping seas on the bar going out, but coming in as a whole other matter.

In the conditions photo'd, experience isn't really as important as luck. You really can't tell if you're going to broach or not until you're in the wave trough, and then you can't fix it, all you can do is pray.

Personally, I would have considered keeping a small jib up to keep the bow headed downwind, but I wouldn't substitute my judgement for those who were out there. But I would have considered staying way the heck outside until the conditions moderated. Trouble is, you might run out of food and water before then...
 

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The wave is definitely a "left" and looks like they made a "bottom turn" to go left. But after getting "covered up" the boat is somehow turned 180 and heading towards the breakwall, how'd that happen?
 

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Sailing is a sport where you are continously correcting minute mistakes and errors in judgement. So you might as well enjoy the day as you sail. It doesn't matter of what level of skills you have. But those who have lesser skills tend to worry more about then those with greater skills. The sea is still going to put one by you at least once a minute and you need to correct for them as you go along.
So find a laid-back skipper and have a fun day. Or Go with a worry-wart and have a grumpy day... your choice.
 

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A laid back skipper is fine but not a captain courageous! Sometimes life sends you a difficult decision.The pics remind me of entering NJ coast inlets sometimes!
 

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The caption talks about the waves being OK out in the ocean, but building at the harbor entrance (probably due to the shallower water and possibly refractions off of the breakwater(s)?). Harbors get closed for this reason. The boat pictured was lucky. We had friends in a 50' schooner who had to wait three days for a harbor in South Africa to open. Waves were breaking across the breakwaters on both sides of the channel so as to lift 1000' tankers up and deposit them on the rocks to leeward in two swipes. In such a situation it might be better to go on short rations for a few days than to be feeding the fishes.
 

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As Paul says, this is typical of bar harbour conditions when the weather, tide/river and sea conditions conspire to create dangerous seas at the entrances.

This one's in Europe, but most harbours between Cape Flattery and Northern California fall into this category. One plans a port-hopping passage at the risk of encountering such conditions.
 

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It might sound strange, but my harbor entrance is like this 50% of the time...
I started sailing some 6 months ago and that entrance scares me a lot.

I had similar waves in 3 ocasions with my 25f Dufour.
I had to learn the hard way, I do 180º, face the wave, let them all pass and then enter the harbor.
 

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It might sound strange, but my harbor entrance is like this 50% of the time...
I started sailing some 6 months ago and that entrance scares me a lot.
Wow...that would scare me senseless to have to face that kind of harbor on a regular basis, especially as a newbie. Hats off to you!
 

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I think this marina is in Portugual, and for these sailors it's an everyday occurance. It must be quite the pucker factor for a newbie:eek: .........i2f
Its in Spain, near the French border, but this whole area is quite troublesome. Usualy waves are above 2 meters (6ft).
I've been caught in the middle of 3.5 meter waves (11-12ft) in January!
I assumed it to be normal :eek:
But the worst part is the harbour entrance, even if you have 1- 1.5 meter waves, you can count with +3 meters at the entrance.

Google Earth image:
Zumaia - Google Maps

I wonder why did he entered so close to the lighthouse...
 

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Yes, That's the one I saw before. The locals must make it a game? It appears you could give it a wider berth, and go farther past the breakwater to make it simpler?.......i2f
 

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I remember a few years back we were in A'Coruna (Spain, Galicia ). The harbour had been closed for a number of days and when it opened the fishing fleet came in. Big Atlantic trawlers. They would come through the entrance and when the wave started to lift them the skipper would open her up and surf in. The difference being that they had the power to keep low on the wave. Not many yachts have that option. It was seriously gobbsmacking to watch.
 

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We are lucky in my part of the world. These conditions are rare here. We have a line of islands/reefs 6-10nm offshore that break up this sort of stuff. It must be quite terrifying to confront it on a regular basis(nearly enough to make you take up golf instead-but still better than doing the garden!). It is a bit difficult to be exactly sure how far away those rocks are though, a 2 dimensional photo can play tricks. However that is a good size boat and that wave makes it look like a toy.
 
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